Hong Kong’s eleventh straight weekend of anti-government protests culminated in a large rally Sunday at the city’s Victoria Park.
Tens of thousands chanted “Free Hong Kong! Democracy Now!” and “Fight for freedom! Stand for Hong Kong!” as a heavy rain fell. Many protesters carried banners decrying alleged police brutality and what they claim is collusion between law enforcement and criminal gangs known as triads.
Others carried banners proclaiming “Hong Kong independence.”
Vanessa, a 42-year-old protester attending the rally with her banker husband, said “We are here to support the young people. I don’t fully agree with everything they do. I don’t one hundred percent agree with what the teenagers have done, but in the end I’ll support them because I know what they’re doing is for Hong Kong.”
Yesterday, thousands of teachers marched in support of a student strike called for Monday, and small groups of radical protesters engaged in a tense standoff with police in the densely populated Kowloon peninsula. A large pro-government rally was also held in the Admiralty district, the site of many previous clashes.
But there were no major street battles or arrests, to the considerable relief of many in the restive enclave, where residents of districts hit hard by the protests have become grimly accustomed to barricaded streets, transport chaos, and palls of choking tear gas hanging over the streets.
By the middle of Sunday afternoon, large numbers of protesters defied a police order and began streaming from Victoria Park towards the central business district. The sheer number of marchers overwhelmed major roads and brought parts of downtown Hong Kong to a virtual standstill. As night fell, the protest remained peaceful, in contrast with previous marches, which have typically ended in violent confrontations between police and radicals.
Hong Kong’s political crisis originally began as opposition to a now suspended bill that would have, for the first time, allowed the extradition of fugitives from the former British colony to mainland China. Detractors of the bill feared it would be used by Beijing to round up dissidents and critics of the communist regime.
However, the anti-extradition movement quickly snowballed into a rebellion against the unrepresentative Hong Kong government and even Chinese sovereignty itself. Many protesters are now calling for political freedom and self-determination for the semi-autonomous territory, which was retroceded to China in 1997 but remains culturally, politically, and linguistically distinct from the mainland.
Over the course of 11 tumultuous weeks, the territory’s legislature has been ransacked, emblems of the Chinese state defaced, and the airport—one of the world’s busiest—shut down.
“We want peace, but we also want the problems to be resolved,” said Mike, a 60-year-old retiree who had brought his family to attend the rally.
“We also would like to have order restored, but what’s the next move? The government will be the same, nothing will have changed. That’s the problem.”
—With reporting by Amy Gunia, Abhishyant Kidangoor and Hillary Leung / Hong Kong